After reading Angie’s post on “SWALLOWS” I wanted to experience camel wisdom for myself. And having gone through “SWALLOWS” what I walked away with was this terrifying sense that there is no escape. No escape from notions of time and/or control. I’m afraid that this may come off sounding dire, so I want to preface all this by saying that “SWALLOWS” was quite enjoyable, even if it did make me question my sense of freedom, whether with regard to a machine or something more abstract.
Class already has me thinking about how much control/freedom we have when using a machine. How much influence does it have on us, and how much can we manipulate it, really. So when “SWALLOWS” presents the concept of the puppeteer, I’m immediately asking if this puppeteer is supposed to be me (vaguely controlling the program), Zelevansky (who designed the possible choices provided), the people who made the machine I’m watching “SWALLOWS” on, or some clockmaker deity who set all of us into motion, or the universe itself. Depending on how wide you want your perspective to be, you could conceive an argument that every possibility can play puppeteer.
The shifts between one puppeteer to another are frustrating and ambiguous. At one point, the text tells someone to drink a glass of milk, and at the end it’s the puppeteer who drinks milk and goes to sleep. But was that first imperative directed at me or someone else? Was it directed at the puppeteer? If so, who has the authority to tell the puppeteer what to do?
Control keeps slipping away. I feel in control of the camel menu, but I am also aware this is a false notion. My choices are limited and eventually leave me with only one direction: to move forward. But “SWALLOWS” wants to undermine that idea constantly. The story repeats itself in different ways throughout each chapter, suggesting there’s no true forward movement. There are only cycles here.
Moreover, “SWALLOWS” constant insistence on time and “TIME PASSES” screens, makes you aware of how much time you’re spending while experiencing this story. Patience becomes a necessity. One screen literally ticks away, mimicking the sounds of a clock as it counts up. It’s these screen that suggest that I have no control whatsoever. Wait for the program to continue, wait for time to pass. All you can do is watch images float across and sometimes turn the page. Waiting for the story to continue and then realizing it doesn’t really progress but swirls, I get frustrated and wonder what it’s getting at, what’s its endgame. But “SWALLOWS” prefigures that too, eventually quoting a rabbi who says that it’s the experience that matters, not necessarily finishing or comprehending everything (as best as I can remember the sense of the quote, anyway). Even my frustration is taken away from me. It’s also part of the program.